The Phantom Tollbooth (1969)



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Movie Info

Chuck Jones made his feature-length debut with this animated tale about Milo, a young boy who travels to a strange world where numbers are at war with letters.

Rating: G
Genre: Action & Adventure, Animation, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By: , , , ,
Written By: Chuck Jones, Sam Rosen
Warner Home Video


as Officer Short Shrift...

as Whether Man (voice)

as Awful DYNN (voice)

as King Azaz / The Math...

as Ralph / Faintly Maca...

as Princess of Sweet Rh...

as Tock (voice)

as Spelling Bee / Sense...

as Kakofonous A. Discho...

as Humbug (voice)
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Critic Reviews for The Phantom Tollbooth

All Critics (8)

More would have been acheived without the inclusion of the sappy pop songs, but the film still has infinitely more savvy than most of the Disney cartoons of the period.

Full Review… | August 4, 2014

[The film] has some wonderful ideas, but they're likely to be a bit above the heads of very young children. The rest should enjoy it, especially the bits with the great Mel Blanc, Toonville's greatest-ever voice.

Full Review… | August 4, 2014
Radio Times

This fine adaptation of the children's book by Norton Juster was Chuck Jones's and MGM's first animated feature.

Full Review… | August 4, 2014
TV Guide's Movie Guide

The animation is clean, with enough pop to do Dictionopolis-and-company justice.

Full Review… | January 20, 2012
Film and Felt

Clever artistry fails to convey the book's depth.

Full Review… | January 2, 2011
Common Sense Media

Uneven but is interesting as an alternative to the dominant Disney features of the time

| January 1, 2000

Audience Reviews for The Phantom Tollbooth

Now this feature length animated film is a real blast down memory lane, in fact I'm confident many won't have even heard of this. The film is an adaptation of another classic children's book of the same name by Norton Juster and very much along the same lines as Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. In fact you could say all three stories are a trilogy of uber classic fantasy tales but like I said I don't think many folk have heard of this one.

This cutesy little tale follows Milo, a young schoolboy, with a drab boring life...or so he thinks. One day after school he starts chatting on the phone to his friend about how dull life is when a strange box appears in his room. This box speaks to Milo and eventually reveals itself to be a tollbooth, a tollbooth that apparently leads into another world. Reluctantly Milo decides to venture through the booth and winds up in a surreal yet colourful world inhabited by odd creatures and wacky people. Milo is soon lead on an adventure to save a couple Princesses from a strange castle in the sky along with a few companions he meets along the way.

Produced by the legendary Chuck Jones who was at the peak of his greatness coming off a string of massively successful Looney Tune cartoon shorts and Tom & Jerry (amongst other things). Watching the movie you can clearly see Jones influence on the overall visuals with many backgrounds and structural designs being highly reminiscent of his Looney Tunes work. Not only that but a few of the characters look a bit familiar too, almost a little too familiar, even going so far as to throw in the same ideas from his back catalog. For example the character of Chroma the conductor not only looks like a chubby conductor from the Bugs Bunny cartoon 'Long-Haired Hare', but at times their facial expressions are identical also (I think it was that Looney Tunes toon).

Speaking of Bugs Bunny its no great shock to find that the awesome Mel Blanc was also utilised here too. He provides voices for three characters in the film and its pretty easy to work out who they are because they all kinda sound like Bugs Bunny. Most of the other characters are voiced by people I don't know admittedly (very different era), but the lead character of Milo is portrayed by Butch 'Eddie Munster' Patrick in the live action sequences and voiced by him in the animated sequences.

The film is bookended by live action sequences in the real world, the present day (1970's San Francisco). At the start we see Milo moping around until the tollbooth pops up. This is a very brief yet highly enjoyable sequence as we see Milo leaving school and travelling home through urban Frisco. The scenery is really lovely and just shows how pleasant Frisco would have been to live in at that least for me being a Brit. The sequence where Milo meets the tollbooth is also really great fun and always got me excited as a child. Its so very charming and adorable plus it really captures the moment perfectly with some really neat effects and those wholesome vivid 60's visuals which always look so good.
There is another great little moment where Milo discovers he appears in cartoon form once crossing the tollbooth barrier which is typically Chuck Jones, again its simple but effective. From there on as Milo goes through the tollbooth the film crosses over into full animation and doesn't go back to live action until Milo comes back across the barrier.

This isn't just any old silly fantasy filled with monsters and heroes oh no, like the source material its actually very smart. The reason being because everything within the 'Kingdom of Wisdom' is a play on words...puns, idioms and metaphors galore. Most of the characters and evil creatures are named by simple word plays or puns such as The Spelling Bee which is a bee that has a large extended vocabulary, Dr. Kakofonous A. Discord who likes to make loud noises and unpleasant sounds or The Terrible Trivium, a demon that lives in the mountains of ignorance and wastes your time with trivial meaningless tasks. The same goes for various locations like the Doldrums where all the slimy lifeless creatures live in a constant state of inactivity, tiredness and depression and their surroundings are swamp-like, murky and colourless.

Some characters are more normal looking but all appear to be for educational purposes I guess, yet they all still have there clever amusing quirks. King Azaz the Unabridged who rules Dictionopolis (words) for get it? or his brother The Mathemagician and ruler of Digitopolis (numbers). Together they both battle and argue over what is more important in life...words or numbers. I especially liked King Azaz's advisors...the Duke of Definition, Minister of Meaning, Count of Connotation, Earl of Essence and the Undersecretary of Understanding...all of whom looked exactly the same. Its not just the characters and locations either, the dialog is top heavy with the same kind of wit also. Such as Milo enjoying a feast with King Azaz where they all tuck in and eat their own words.

The visuals are passable by today's standards but a little sketchy admittedly, its nice to see hand drawn animation and its all very Chuck Jones. The similarity to the classic Warner Bros. Looney Tunes visual style assists for sure but its still not the same quality and way behind the likes of Disney. I must also add that the film can be a little scary in places I think...for younger kids. The monsters towards the end are quite horrendous looking considering its aimed at kids, plus the animation style used for them adds to the scare factor. The Terrible Trivium always did give me goosebumps when I was young with his emotionless faceless mannequin-like head.

Whilst the plot is rather mundane (saving two Princesses from some generic evil) its the witty dialog and visuals that make things interesting. Whilst the story holds all the magic and wonder that will enthrall kids of various ages it will also teach them a bit about Maths and English...maybe. At the same time its also a solid watch for adults too with its word trickery, it would take many viewings for kids to grasp everything they see, if they can look beyond the colourful creations on display. I tend to think of this as a poor man's 'The Sword in the Stone' (Disney)...a touch of music, a dabble of fear and a wheelbarrow full of imagination.

Phil Hubbs

Super Reviewer

Great Chuck Jones animation. His style is unmistakable; with each character's wide-eyes. The colors are rich and the backgrounds are beautiful. The princesses could've been detailed a bit better however. The story is a bit abstract and fanciful. The live action scenes with Butch Patrick in 1970's San Francisco are neato. The songs are catchy. An underrated fantasy cartoon which needs a proper DVD release.

Lafe Fredbjornson

Super Reviewer

A fun and seriously underrrated kids classic you've never heard of. Chuck Jones' animation is great and the story is in that category of late 60s out there. Unfortunately it would probably be lost on today's generation of kids but as much as I can't stand remakes, I'd love to see this story get a modern treatment. I also loved the dog and the Sergio Mendez-like soundtrack. The Phantom Tollbooth is dated as hell but if nothing else the adults might get a kick out of it.

Michael Gildea

Super Reviewer

The Phantom Tollbooth Quotes

– Submitted by Evalyn D (2 years ago)

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